Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Z" IS FOR....



Crush Of Night continues the trilogy begun with 2009’s The Darkened Room by New York based prog band IZZ.

 Founded by the Galgano brothers Tom and John nearly 15 years ago, IZZ layers their prog with catchy retro styled hooks, symphonic touches and distinctive vocal harmonies.

No filler here, as the band has delivered an excellent album with strong musicianship and solid, mature songs  in a more accessible style, with a guest appearance from prog royalty, Gary Green of Gentle Giant on two songs.

It seems as if the band is able to draw from an endless well of musical ideas, creating stellar song arrangements that evolve in unexpected directions, remaining grounded by strong melodies and catchy hooks, culminating with the 26 minute title suite that is the album’s centerpiece.

The musicianship and vocals are top notch, with a mood that changes from soothing to an all out assault in a matter of seconds, fueled by dual drumming in perfect sync (a la King Crimson).

Crush of Night passionately delivers on all fronts by creating a sound that is uniquely IZZ.



* Yeah, I know "IZZ" for the letter "Z" is a big stretch....but find me a prog band whose name begins with the letter Z (let alone one who released an album last year)!

Monday, April 29, 2013

"Y" IS FOR...



When it comes to classic progressive rock, you'll have a tough time discussing the genre before Yes comes up conversationally. Their legacy is one that few bands can rival, and a long string of classic albums have made them a staple in nearly every rock fan's collection.

Lineup changes are nothing new for Yes, but the incarnation of Yes featured on In The Present, which contains vocalist Benoit David in place of Jon Anderson, has been met with some controversy.

Benoit David was quite good standing in for Anderson-his performances on their latest studio effort were excellent, and I was quite impressed with his pipes the two times I saw him live.

To showcase this new lineup, the band offers up a new double disc release of their performance in Lyon, France on December 1, 2009.  In the Present - Live From Lyon shows the band performing classic tracks from the seventies as well as dipping into some Drama-era material.

While the set list is varied enough to satisfy most Yes fans, it would have been nice to hear a few tunes from their more recent catalog. The fact that most of these songs are readily available on other live albums makes the album more of a completist’s  item than an essential part of Yes' canon.

By the time this collection was released, Benoit David had been dismissed as abruptly as Jon Anderson, paving the way for Jon Davison from Glass Hammer to assume lead vocal duties, making this album a historical document rather than a glimpse of things to come.

This is an immensely entertaining live experience that shows the quintet is at the top of their game, and the wealth of classic tunes should satisfy any fan of the band. While the album may not hold as much appeal to Yes newcomers, long time fnas should enjoy this.






Saturday, April 27, 2013

"X" IS FOR...

X-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett


Ever since vocalist Peter Gabriel abandoned Genesis‘ classic line-up in 1975, the band’s ’70s purist fans have pined for a full-prog reunion. That dream appears to be unlikely in 2013, with Gabriel focused on his solo career and humanitarian efforts, and Collins announcing his retirement due to a debilitating spinal injury.

Hackett has always embraced the material from Genesis’ peak-prog period, faithfully playing the classic material on stage. While some critics feel Hackett is stuck in the past, he clearly still loves interpreting these songs, adding new textures and flourishes as the years go by.

 The double-disc Genesis Revisited II is Hackett’s second collection of updated Genesis tunes, and it’s a far more cohesive and inventive set than the first volume released in 1996 (Watcher of the Skies).

Utilizing the same basic format as that album, Revisited II is almost entirely comprised of Genesis material, balanced out by a handful of solo Hackett tunes, most of which were originally rehearsed by Genesis in the ’70s.

As with any look back, it’s tough to know where to draw the line.

Somewhere between a note-for-note cover and a wide divergence from the source material lies the answer, and Hackett strikes a mostly successful balance.

Adding a few new intros, expanding a few Guitar Hero-style solos, and taking some bold liberties with his taste in singers, but all-the-while keeping the songs’ core mysticism in-tact, Hackett manages to avoid prog-rock blasphemy.

Joininf forces with such prog-rock luminaries as Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Conrad Keely (And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead), and  Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) add to this collection’s appeal, and the material is never viewed through a nostalgic lens. Rather, the songs portray an an urgency most albums of this nature do not capture, with Hackett letting the songs go to some often strange new places.

Sometimes, the attempts miss the mark, but without taking a few gambles, the project wouldn’t feel so vital. Warts and all, Genesis Revisited II is what the die-hards have been waiting for.



Friday, April 26, 2013

"W" IS FOR...



For someone who is still, from many perspectives, pretty much unknown to most people, Steven Wilson gets an awful lot of press. From his work with Porcupine Tree to his various remastering projects (King Crimson, Jehtro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer), not to mention the various side projects (Bass Communion, Blackfield, Storm Corrosion), the extremely prolific Wilson has been nominated for four Grammy awards.

A DVD and CD chronicle of the tour supporting Wilson’s second solo album, Get All You Deserve is a change of pace from the progressive leaning of his day job, sounding more like a jazz / fusion band.

Wilson brought in hired guns, all amazing players, to bring his music to life, a mixture of laid back tunes, songs where all hell breaks loose, and of course songs that fall somewhere in the middle. Slow, dark and ambient with occasional up tempo jazzy pieces,

Wilson’s music uses textures and atmosphere to create a mood, and this band does a good job of recreating it in front of an enthusiastic crowd, at times lightening the music’s apathy and darkness by injecting their own personality.

In the end, while the performance is excellent, at two hours it’s a little long. Beautfully produced and filmed, but not exactly a visual thrill ride. It’s worth it to spring for the deluxe edition with the CD's, as I think listeners are more likely to revisit the CD’s before the DVD.




Thursday, April 25, 2013

"V" IS FOR...



Various artist “super-groups” can be a tricky thing.

More often than not, the whole is less than the sum of its parts, with so many great artists in one assembly failing to produce a memorable yield of material.

Sherwood's resume is solid (Yes, World Trade, his work with Chris Squire), and he has pulled this type of thing off in the past with his Back Against The Wall project.

Considering the star power here, with members of Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Renaissance, and participation by Steve Hillage, John Wesley, Richard Page and Colin Moulding, this one piqued my curiosity. Even though this album was a little pricey, I thought it was worth the risk.

The Prog Collective falls somewhere between masterpiece and dud, certainly a strong enough effort to be considered memorable, but not

The quality of the songwriting left me pleasantly surprised, as the tracks are melodic and free of the bombast associated with latter-day prog.

The musicianship is top-notch, although much of it is a Sherwood effort. Sherwood shares the guitar spotlight with Gary Green  and Steve Hillage, and would have produced a better product had he done the same with other instruments. Fine vocals further enhance the experience.

The album is very well done, but probably not one I will return to frequently.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"U" IS FOR...



First thing-did you really think you would get through the whole A to Z endeavor on this blog and not see a mention of Todd Rundgren?
The Disco Jets sessions took place at Bearsville studios shortly after the release of Todd's Faithful album and was a purely instrumental affair recorded "tongue in cheek" with sights firmly set upon the current trends of the time such as the U.S. bicentennial celebrations, Disco music, Science Fiction movies such as Star Wars and the CB Radio fad.
Featuring Rundgren and the then-current lineup of his band, Utopia, featuring Roger Powell, Willie Wilcox and John Siegler, the album featuried some memorable soloing from Rundgren and Powell, the impressive 'Space War' and the memorable cover of the "Star Trek" theme.
As you might imagine, the record label did not see this as a marketable product, and the Disco Jets project would languish in the vaults for several decades before appearing as part of a Japanese onlycompilation, now long deleted.
Good news for Rundgren fanatics-Esoteric Records released a digitally remastered edition of this "lost" 1976 album as part of it's Rundgren remaster efforts. For the die-hards, this is a must-have.
The album would have been critically trashed if it had been released between Faithful and Ra, but after twenty years since the last Utopie release, it's musical mannah and a welcome official addition to Todd's catalog. The mastering sounds great, the songs are quick instrumentals, all nicely packaged with some interesting liner notes.
While this is more of a novelty record, the tunes are musically hilarious, and being Todd and Utopia, there some great Todd solos, as well as tastes of the prior Utopia albums. This CD shows what happens when musical genius has some fun.

For the casual fan? I don't think that would be a good idea...


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"T" IS FOR....

Steve Thorne


Steve Thorne has released several full-length works in the last several years, including his latest effort, “Crimes & Reasons.”

Steve’s music is mature and melodic, with some melodic rock & pop-rock features, nowadays without losing that prog, atmospheric background.
Weaving in some of the less complicated & more tuneful aspects of Marillion, Pendragon, Spock’s Beard, Porcupine Tree, It Bites, Arena and IQ… Steve manages to deliver amazingly beautiful songs. The production is very clear and rich… excellent by any means.

While Thorne seems to prefer a solitary approach to songwriting and recording, the album is not without guest appearances from such friends as bassist Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), keyboardist/songwriter Martin Orford (IQ), vocalist/guitarist Gary Chandler (Jadis), and drummer Nick D’Virgilio (Spock/s Beard, Big Big Train).

It may be too much to say that this is his strongest effort to date, but when listening to this album one can’t escape the delightful warm pictures it creates when you dive into it.
If you like prog rock music with melodic rock & pop-rock passages then “Crimes & Reasons” will surely make your day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"S" IS FOR...



Fractured Eye is the fourth offering from US progressive act Slychosis, with a sound firmly rooted in progressive canon and a focus on melody, taking a trick or two from Rush’s synthesizer-heavy 80’s era.

Building on their last effort, Slychosis still seem to be finding their “sound,” at times conjuring powerful emotional energy with quirky symphonic overtures and a polished sense of production and performance.

Although they seem to place an emphasis on melody, hooks are somewhat lacking, making for a pleasant album, but one that leaves the listener a little less than sated.

Still, each album shows an improvement trend, and it is enjoyable listening to the band evolve (or should I say progress?).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"R" is also for RECORD STORE DAY

I tried a different strategy today for Record Store Day.

Normally, people start lining up pretty early (before eight am for a nine o'clock opening), and there is a mad rush of human cattle to the exclusives table. While I have not ever seen biting or clawing, it usually means you have to stand in line for more than an hour for the truly rare exclusives.

This always puzzled me-the labels complain about declining sales, yet they press 1,000 of an intem and let it sell on eBay for hundreds (case study-the Foo Fighters Medium Rare LP from 2011).

I'd release the damn thing. People obviously want it.

Seeing nothing on the list that I could not live without, I got to my home away from home, Zia Records, at a leisurely 9:20. People were already in line to check out. I saw someone holding the King Crimson box set I'd had an interest in, but I could live without it, right?

I walked around looking for the Liquid Tension Experiment II LP, was told by a store staffer they only had received one, and assumed it was gone.

Then I saw an interesting phenomena.

People started putting things they had grabbed in their fits of greed and madness back down on the tables!

So I kept making the rounds, picking up a couple of releases here and there, and there, before me on a table I had searched twice, was the elusive holy grail of RSD 2013, Liquid Tension Experiment II, in all of it's marbled colored vinyl glory.

So I glommed it.

All in all, it was a successfuly Record Store Day for everything but my savings account.

A few other items I scored.....

I reviewed Ben's recent effort with Charlie Musselwhite HERE

One can never have enough Buddy Guy in one's collection, can one?

A fellow Philadelphian, G. Love had an interesting sound (hip hop and blues) but went acoustic blues on his last album, reviewed HERE. This EP is in that vein.

Steve Earle's son, middle name thanks to Townes Van Zant, this is his debut EP reissued on vinyl.

"R" IS FOR...



RPWL have been one of the most impressive, albeit underrated modern progressive bands in recent years. Using several tricks from the Pink Floyd playbook, the band adds a modern update that makes the sound contemporary.

Beyond Man And Time opens on an ambitious note, with a cinematic quality and a narrative concept, with intelligent songwriting and clear production.

The album’s conceptual narrative is somewhat abstract, with a title derived from Nietzche and undertones of Porcupine Tree woven into songs about distinct ideologies filtered through the band’s introspective style.

RPWL was originally a Pink Floyd tribute band, and the performance recalls that band, although their own sound comes through strong enough to carry the album on its own merits. Plenty of long songs with memorable melodies that should satisfy prog fans.

At seventy minutes, the album is a little long, but if you have the endurance, it is worth the listen.



Friday, April 19, 2013


Storm Thorgerson, whose album cover artwork includes Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, has died aged 70, the band's management has confirmed. 

A childhood friend of the founding members of the band, he became their designer-in-chief, fashioning a string of eye-catching creations. 

In addition to the prism spreading a spectrum of colour across The Dark Side Of The Moon, his credits also include albums by Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel and Muse.

His family released a statement saying he died peacefully on Thursday surrounded by family and friends. "He had been ill for some time with cancer though he had made a remarkable recovery from his stroke in 2003," it said."He is survived by his mother Vanji, his son Bill, his wife Barbie Antonis and her two children Adam and Georgia."

Pink Floyd guitarist and vocalist Dave Gilmour released a statement in which he said the artwork Thorgerson created for the band had been "an inseparable part of our work". He said: "We first met in our early teens. We would gather at Sheep's Green, a spot by the river in Cambridge and Storm would always be there holding forth, making the most noise, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. Nothing has ever really changed. He has been a constant force in my life, both at work and in private, a shoulder to cry on and a great friend. I will miss him."

Rest in peace, Storm!

"Q" IS FOR...

Queensryche's Geoff Tate 


Geoff Tate, the former voice of Queensr├┐che, waspunted from his band in a coup last year after years of tension within the band ranks.

This solo album was a bit of a surprise, far better than Tate's first self-titled solo release from a decade ago, and his songwriting doesn't seem to have suffered much from all of the drama during the band breakup.

Is it classic Queensryche?
No, but it's really not intended to be either. There is a lot of exploration on this album, but that works here, as Tate has crafted a collection of interesting and surprisingly focused songs that don't stretch out too far but still explore new boundaries of his musical spectrum. There are songs with deep grooves and others with an almost bluesy funky sound.

Kings and Thieves is actually a decent album that equals some of Queensr├┐che's post-Empire output.

There are missteps- Tate tries to rap on one songs which makes for some painful minutes, and the lyrics are sophomoric at times, but the album rewards repeated listens due to its certain quality of songwriting and musicianship.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

"P" is for...

Presto Ballet


Kurdt Vanderhoof of Metal Church indulges his progressive leanings with Presto Ballet, and on this, their fifth album, his vision and creativity are still clear, touches of seventies prog mixed with neoprog elements, all mixed into some great ear candy.

From the introduction to the final fade we are treated to a band that is part Dream Theater, part Porcupine Tree with that special ingredient that makes them unique.

Musically, this could be their best work to date, a musical canvas that reveals its secrets to you with repeated listening.

The songs are tight and interesting, and the sound is just about perfect. Every instrument is at the right level in the mix and the songs hold your attention.
The closing title track is a twenty minute showcase piece-this one takes a few listense to sink in but is worth the investment.





Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"O" is for...




OSI is an American progressive experimental supergroup formed by Fates Warning guitarist Jim Matheos and former Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore. The name refers to the short-lived US government agency Office of Strategic Influence which was established shortly after 9/11 to promote pro-US propaganda in domestic and foreign media.
OSI’s debut album debut brought together an all-star supporting cast, including Sean Malone (Cynic) on bass, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums, and guest vocals from Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree).
The problem with OSI is that the debut and subsequent releases have failed to live up to expectations, with Jim and Kevin never managing to blend their individual styles into one homogenous sound.
Until now.
After three albums of trial-and-error, it appears that the fourth time is the charm.

With songs that are a near-seamless blend of Jim Matheos’ riffs and arrangements with Kevin Moore’s electronics and keyboard prowess, and each member finally seems to bringing their A-game to the project, the band has an attitude and swagger that was largely missing from previous releases.
They’re heavier and more energetic and even the mellower sections benefit from renewed vigor. Dark and moody melodies seem to wrap themselves around the layers of synth that dominate each song, and Moore is firing on all cylinders, having returned to the experimental sounds that were bright spots on the first two OSI releases.

Although there are obviously "typical" OSI tracks, the biggest improvement comes from the increased diversity found throughout the album. T
he album definitely has more peaks and valleys than previous releases, and when it comes to tempos and moods, the songs have benefited from the more refined blend of each artist’s individual style, taking on much darker atmosphere than previous releases, with excellent interplay between Jim’s moody guitar melodies and Kevin’s layers of synth.

Although it is possible that OSI will never live up to expectations,  Fire Make Thunder is OSI’s first album that even comes close.







Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"N" is for...

North Atlantic Oscillation 


According to Wikipedia, the North Atlantic oscillation is a phenomenon involving fluctuations of atmospheric pressure at sea level. 

What this has to do with the band North Atlantic Oscillation, I have no frigging idea!

It's prudent to listen to the Edinburgh, Scotland-based group's newest effort, Fog Electric, in the safe confines of a basement or bedroom to avoid any meteorological distress. 

With headphones on, it is easy to imagine yourself floating in uncharted icy waters surrounded by thick fog and soothing mist. Headphones help the listener to fully grasp an album that does not lack in ambition and atmosphere, and almost reaches the heights it certainly aims for.

North Atlantic Oscillation merge airy synthesizers and sampled drums with Sam Healy's swirling, ethereal falsetto, in an arrangement that represents shades of psychedelia and post-rock. 

The result is a sound that captures the listener's attention, with simple, yet steady drum patterns, effective synths blended with post-rock inspired guitar that set the general tone for the album. 

Throughout the disc, NAO do not stray too far from this formula, and the results are satisfying with some stand out tracks.  A couple of less rock-oriented, synth-dominant songs are well-structured but offer nothing unique, and fall a little flat. There are moments on the record that recall Porcupine Tree and Radiohead, proving that the band can take cues from their more popular contemporaries while still creating a sound that, while maybe not innovative, is still fresh.

An album that should be taken in as a whole, with a low-key pop atmosphere behind a thick cloud of haze, it makes for an enjoyable listen.